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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Importance of Diabetic Eye Exams for People with Diabetes

Updated: May 10, 2023

Regular diabetic eye exams are essential for the eye health monitoring of people with diabetes.

Even though it affects millions of people worldwide, living with diabetes has its fair share of challenges. Along with them, the high risk of diabetic retinopathy poses a serious threat to the overall health and quality of life of people with the condition. If you are one of them, don't let diabetes steal your sight!

In this Ophthalmology24 publication, we will discuss the importance of diabetic eye exams and the recommended screening frequency.

Table of Content:

The Importance of Routine Eye Exams for People with Diabetes

Diabetic eye exams are critical to managing diabetic retinopathy, one of the most common diabetes complications. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy could eventually cause vision loss and blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy is a medical condition that can occur in people with diabetes. It happens when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Over time, these damaged blood vessels can leak fluid or bleed, blurring your vision.

Eye examinations are a good way to detect and monitor the condition. During a diabetic eye screening, an eye doctor will dilate the pupils and examine the retina for signs of damage triggered by diabetes. Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy prevents vision loss and preserves the patient's quality of life. If you are diabetic should also monitor your blood sugar levels and strictly follow your doctor's recommendations and treatment plans. By keeping your diabetes under control, you reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy Symptoms

If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, go see a diabetic eye doctor as soon as possible, and do not miss out on your routine diabetic eye exams. Find below some recognizable symptoms of diabetic retinopathy:

Blurry or hazy vision is a common symptom of diabetic retinopathy. This is usually due to swelling of the retina or the presence of fluid in the macula.

If your vision seems to change frequently, this could also be a sign of diabetic retinopathy. You may experience periods of distorted vision, or you may have trouble seeing in low light.

Floaters are small specks or dots that appear in your field of vision. The cause is changes in the vitreous, the clear gel-like substance that fills the eye.

Dark spots or shadows in your field of vision are also a symptom to watch out for. These spots can be a result of bleeding in the retina.

Diabetic retinopathy can affect the ability of the eye to adjust to changes in light. So if you have difficulty seeing at night or trouble seeing in low light, please consult with your eye doctor.

Please note that diabetic retinopathy may not cause symptoms in its early stages.

Eye exams for diabetic people

Answering Questions About Diabetic Eye Problems

As we press on the importance of diabetic eye exams, we want to answer a few of the most common questions you might have:

How Long Does It Take for Diabetes to Affect Your Eyes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, most people with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy over time. The timeline for developing eye complications, however, can vary widely. It depends on the individual's blood sugar control, how long they have had diabetes, and if they have additional health issues.

Diabetes can damage the eyes long before any symptoms appear.

Diabetic retinopathy can result in severe sight loss or even blindness at any stage. In light of this, we urge you not to skip your diabetic eye exams if you are in this risk group.

Can Eye Doctors Diagnose Diabetes from the Eyes?

Yes. Eye specialists can detect warning signs of diabetes. During an eye examination, they may observe changes in the blood vessels in the back of the eye which raises the red flags. Although they cannot give the diabetes diagnosis itself.

Instead, if an eye doctor suspects a patient has diabetes, they will refer them to a primary care physician or endocrinologist for further evaluation and diagnosis.

Can You Reverse Diabetic Eye Problems?

In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, there may be a chance to slow or stop the progression of the disease. That is possible by controlling blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and by quitting smoking. These measures should prevent further damage to the blood vessels in the retina and may even encourage healing.

If diabetic retinopathy has progressed to an advanced stage, viable approaches may include laser therapy or injections to slow the disease's course. These treatments could slightly improve vision and prevent further vision loss.

While some vision loss by diabetic retinopathy may be reversible with treatment, other types of damage to the eye may not be reversible. Thus, diabetics should follow through with their diabetic eye exams and work closely with their healthcare providers.

Are Diabetic Eye Exams Covered by Insurance?

Health insurance coverage varies from country to country. It is up to you to check directly with your health insurance provider or family doctor.

In many European Countries, public insurance covers all types of vision screenings, including a diabetic eye exam. However, in some cases, you may need a referral from your physician. If you have private insurance, the chances are it probably covers these types of diabetic eye exams. You still need to check that in advance.

Is a Diabetic Eye Exam Different from a Regular Eye Exam?

Diabetic eye screening is slightly different from a regular checkup and may include additional tests to evaluate eye health in the context of diabetes. During diabetic eye exams, the ophthalmology professional looks for signs of diabetic retinopathy, with a main focus on the retina and the vascular integrity of the eyes.

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How often to do Diabetic Eye Exams

Diabetic Eye Exam: Optometrist or Ophthalmologist?

You are probably reading this and wondering, where can I get a diabetic eye exam? This is a valid question, we are here to answer. Let's explore which is the right type of medical eye doctor to address your concerns.

If you have diabetes and have worries about your eyesight, the best thing you can do is consult an ophthalmologist. While an optometrist could conduct basic screenings like eyeglasses prescription, for diabetic eye exams you should go to a specialist who has a deeper medical knowledge of diabetic retinopathy.

Recommended Frequency of Screening

Now, it is imperative to talk about how often should a diabetic get their eyes checked by an ophthalmology professional.

Diabetic Eye Exams for Type 1 Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association recommends that individuals with Type 1 diabetes undergo an eye exam within five years of their diabetes diagnosis and then annually thereafter. If you have Type 1 diabetes, please make sure you do not miss your regular eye doctor appointments.

Diabetic Eye Exams for Type 2 Diabetes

For individuals with Type 2 diabetes, the first diabetic eye exam should occur at the time of diabetes diagnosis, and then going forward once per year, or more frequently at the recommendation of their diabetic eye doctor. The frequency of the examinations depends on how progressed the retinal changes are.

Diabetic eye exams are crucial for diabetes patients to detect any signs of diabetic retinopathy. Following screening frequency recommendations is an effective way to catch eye changes early and treat them quickly. If you have diabetes, talk to your ophthalmology doctor about scheduling routine eye exams to protect your vision.

All medical facts are checked by Atanas Bogoev M.D.

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